Tragically, in troubled marriages, spouses focus on the other spouse’s weaknesses and/or denigrate every strength or contribution to the family. One wife complained bitterly: “My husband did not come home from work until late. He then gobbled up his dinner, hardly talking to me at all. He then ran away from the table and I found him at the computer and do you know what he was doing?” Our minds played out the obvious possibilities that could so anger the wife. But the wife stopped our speculation quickly as she angrily blurted out: “He was working!” She was furious he was working.
Not surprisingly, our view was somewhat more nuanced. We certainly agree the husband should have spoken to his wife over dinner. She missed him. She wanted to talk with him. He should have recognized her need and understood that her need for him was an honor to him. Had he spent the ten or fifteen minutes relating to his wife, the husband and the wife would have felt better.
However, it is not as if the husband spent his day playing cards. Nor was it that he ran to the computer to watch movies. The poor guy was working. He was struggling to support their family. He was struggling to pay the bills his family members were racking up. The predominant mood of the wife should have been one of gratitude and we bet that had she given her husband a modicum of gratitude, he would not have been so eager to run back to work.
Of course, it is easy to dismiss extreme examples. Yet, we all focus on good or bad things about our spouses. Ask yourself: what do you focus on? What conversations are you having with yourself about your spouse? We bet a good deal of this self-talk is negative. However, focusing on your mistakes in not judging your spouse favorably (yes, if you are rehearsing your spouse’s weaknesses you are violating this halacha), is not enough to fix your problem.
Try this: think of five good things about your spouse (and if you can’t think of five good things, we can virtually guaranty that the fault is with you and not your spouse). Write the list of good things down. It is important to try to think of the list yourself as it will have a greater impact on your brain if YOU think of the words. You need to invest in the process. STOP reading this, NOW! Write the list, NOW (except, of course, if you are reading this on Shabbos).
If you totally are stuck here are some words that may help: interesting, powerful, kind, practical, decisive, creative, thrifty, learned, insightful, provider, good cook, understanding, truthful, intelligent, brave, good parent, attractive, modest, vulnerable. Don’t feel bound by our list.
If you really cannot think of your own adjectives and ours do not help, check out the slightly edited version of the list created by the Gottmans which you can find at the end of this post. Do not just check off things on the list. Again, if you have not already done so, STOP reading this, NOW. Write the list now (again, except, of course, if you are reading this on Shabbos).
Feel free to modify your list by adding to it in light of what you read from us or the Gottmans. The more work you put into this the better off you will be. The more you will change. Understand this, you need to invest in your marriage for it to work. Reading is nowhere near as effective in getting change as actually writing things down. The more you work the more you will change. Writing a list will be more effective than just checking off things other people wrote on a list.
Okay, so we are going to assume you wrote the list of good qualities your spouse has. Now, write down, just don’t think about it, WRITE DOWN, three specific examples of what your spouse did/does that embody each quality.
Consider sharing the list with your spouse (Of course, don’t share the list if you think your spouse is going to think the list is too bland).
Regardless of whether you share the list with your spouse, share it with yourself. Review it-often. Add more adjectives to the list of good qualities your spouse has. Add more examples of good things your spouse does. You will find that the more you focus on the good in your partner, the happier you will become and the happier your marriage will be.
The benefit is spiritual as well. By looking at your spouse’s good points, you will be judging them more favorably and will thereby be observing the positive, Biblical commandment of judging others favorably.
(We know that when spouses disagree it may be hard to judge your partner favorably. We will be writing about that separately).
Edited Version of the Gottman Adjective Checklist
Loving Sensitive Brave Intelligent Thoughtful Generous Loyal Truthful Strong Energetic Decisive Creative Imaginative Fun Attractive Interesting Supportive Funny Considerate Affectionate Organized Resourceful Athletic Cheerful Coordinated Graceful Elegant Gracious Playful Caring Great Friend Exciting Thrifty Shy Vulnerable Committed Involved Expressive Active Careful Reserved Adventurous Receptive Reliable Responsible Dependable Nurturing Passionate Warm Kind Gentle Practical Witty Relaxed Beautiful Handsome Silly Calm Lively Great Partner Great Parent Assertive Protective Sweet Tender Powerful Flexible Understanding.